The Challenges of Teaching Medieval History to KS3

The teaching of Medieval history is fraught with many issues for a history teacher, like myself. My background in history is very much focussed on events post-1700. I am from a ‘Modern World’ lineage, in terms of my own GCSE learning as well as teaching and my A-level course is based in the twentieth century. My attempts to study medieval history at university were blocked by some very poor teaching. Therefore my knowledge and understanding of this period of history is relatively poor. I have yet to find a sequence of lessons in which I can be confident, that genuinely inspire students, that gives them a sense of period and challenges their deficit view of the past, which is all too easily reinforced by the simplistic teaching of this period which takes place.

I am pleased to say that this is an evolving situation. I have learned a lot, researching in depth to support my Key Stage Three teaching. I was particularly fascinated when I investigated the Magna Carta and invited Professor Nick Vincent of UEA to speak at our school’s annual humanities charity lecture in 2015. The unhappy consequence of this, though, has been that my teaching has become somewhat unwieldy. I spend an excessive number of lessons which I shall outline below which needs paring back. I cannot sustain this number of lessons, within the confines of a two-year Key Stage Three. What will follow will be a series of blog posts on how I attempt to redesign this section of our curriculum, and I very much want the rest of the history teaching community to offer up some suggestions on how to develop this work.

Topic (approx. number of lessons) Conceptual Focus
How did William, Duke of Normandy manage to conquer England? (4) Causation – covering events leading up to the Battle of Hastings.
Did the Normans transform England? (3) Change & Continuity
What was life like on the Manor? (5) Diversity (Similarity & Difference) with a particular focus on peasant life.
Does the Magna Carta really matter? (3) Significance
What did Wat Tyler do when he met the King? (3-4) Evidence – I have managed to use an excellent Katharine Burn enquiry sequence from my PGCE here.
Should we teach Medieval Islam in KS3 history? (7) Significance – first conceived when Gove was designing his own triumphalist British History curriculum.


If anybody would like any of these existing lessons/enquiry sequences, then they are more than welcome to get in touch.

I am dissatisfied with this sequence. There is nothing, quite obviously, on the case of Thomas Becket or The Wars of the Roses. I was also minded to make a thing out of the Luttrell Psalter after Michael Fordham’s inspiring post on the importance of certain sources and how they should be deployed in the classroom (and indeed in assessments). The crusades are only cursorily mentioned in sequence on the achievements of the Islamic Empire.

Ideally, I would be able to secure a clearer overview of the Middle Ages, whilst maintaining the number of lessons taken up to no more than 24.

I’ll begin addressing this problem by reading a little more about the teaching of others, and report back here. I hope to model a reflexive style of teaching to new history teachers and provide a hub for thinking on this subject. In the meantime, other glaring omissions in my curriculum, or suggestions of what must feature should be passed on. Any ‘final product’ in terms of new lessons and SoW will be gladly shared.


3 thoughts on “The Challenges of Teaching Medieval History to KS3

  1. Hi

    I would be very interested to see the Peasants Revolt enquiry and the Medieval Islam enquiry. I work in a CofE school and whilst I deliver a very basic understanding of medieval Islam when teaching the Crusades, I’ll admit that my own knowledge here is very weak.

    Although I’m lucky to teach a three year KS3 curriculum, the NC emphasis on British history and church and state has led me to overlook the influence of Islam.

    I look forward to hearing from you and would happily share my medieval SoW if you’re interested.


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